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Is This The End Of Touring As We Know It?

touring
Santigold

A few bands have recently announced that they cannot afford to tour again. Two days ago, Animal Collective posted the following on their Instagram:
”Friends, we are absolutely gutted to announce today that we are making the decision to cancel our UK/EU dates for this November.  We love playing music for you and truly wish we could be there.  It has been a wild year for us trying to push through a mountain of touring obstacles related to COVID and the economy.  Three of us got bad cases of Covid.  We were forced to cancel shows and lost large amounts of the income that sustains us and our families.   The one constant has been that we have had an incredible time playing music in front of our fans at every show.  You are all amazing.  We chose to push through because we love to do it.  But preparing for this tour we were looking at an economic reality that simply does not work and is not sustainable.  From inflation to currency devaluation, to bloated shipping and transportation costs, and much much more, we simply could not make a budget for this tour that did not lose money even if everything went as well as it could.  We have always been the kind of people to persevere through the difficult times and get on stage unless our health prevented it.  We are choosing not to take the risk to our mental and physical health with the economic reality of what that tour would have been.   We hope you understand and that you know we would not make a choice like this lightly.  We truly want nothing more than to make it out there again.  Thank you so much to our team, the promoters and venues who worked so hard on this tour for us. We look forward to getting back out to play for all of you and hope you will be there with us when we do.
*please go to your point of purchase for your ticket refund*”

Santigold seems to be in the same situation, as the musician just canceled touring dates, evoking the same hardships on their website:
“Dear Friends,
I am both sad and proud to announce my decision to cancel the Holified Tour.
I am sad because it breaks my heart to disappoint those of you who consistently come out to show love and support me for what I do, those of you who have bought tickets and planned trips to come and see me. When I think of disappointing you all, I feel the disappointment deep in the pit of my stomach as well. I was excited to finally be back with you in person to celebrate and bring the music of this new record to life. I know that without you I would never have been able to continue making music for all of these years, and I am so grateful.
But for the past several years we have all been through immense challenges, some physical, some mental, some spiritual, some economic. And yet, as we have begun to trudge on, much of the toll of that experience has been left untended as we rush back in, attempting to make up for lost time, to reconnect, catch up on bills unpaid, to escape the insanity that had begun to set in. For many of us, the landscapes we are re-entering are not the same.
As a touring musician, I don’t think anyone anticipated the new reality that awaited us. After sitting idle (not being able to do shows) for the past couple of years, many of us like everyone else, earning no or little income during that time, every musician that could, rushed back out immediately when it was deemed safe to do shows. We were met with the height of inflation – gas, tour buses, hotels, and flight costs skyrocketed – many of our tried-and-true venues unavailable due to a flooded market of artists trying to book shows in the same cities, and positive test results constantly halting schedules with devastating financial consequences. All of that on top of the already-tapped mental, spiritual, physical, and emotional resources of just having made it through the past few years. Some of us are finding ourselves simply unable to make it work.
In my case, I have tried and tried, looked at what it would take from every angle, and I simply don’t have it. I can’t make it work. I’m actually going to elaborate on it more later because I think it’s important for people to know the truth of what it’s like out here for artists and I don’t believe enough of us are talking about it publicly. I’ve seen a couple articles start to emerge, literally over the past few days, just as I had started writing this letter to you, about musicians canceling tours, prioritizing themselves over the demands of a relentless industry. But for now, I want to tell you that for me it has taken a toll – through anxiety, insomnia, fatigue, vertigo, chronic pain, and missing crucial time with my children. In the place that I’m in, in the place that the music business is in, it feels like I’ve been hanging on, trying to make it to the ever-distant finish line, but my vehicle’s been falling apart the whole time – the bumper fell off, the wheels one at a time, the steering wheel, and finally the whole bottom fell out. And here I am thinking, ‘Should I just hold the doors up and run?’ And my little heart that has been working way beyond its limits, my whole body in fact, and my soul too, are screaming at me “NO muthafucka! Pull. The Fuck. Over!”
I’m coming to you with the honesty that is inherent in my music. How could I release Spirituals, an album about honoring yourself and refusing to cross your own boundaries, and not take this opportunity to do just that for myself? I want you to understand that I am proud to be canceling this tour when it means that I am proclaiming that I, the person who writes the songs, is as important to me as the songs. I will not continue to sacrifice myself for an industry that has become unsustainable for, and uninterested in the welfare of the artists it is built upon.
I love you all. And I hope to see you soon.
Santigold”

These past years have certainly been difficult for live music, but now that we may see the end of the pandemic, musicians encounter more difficulties, and a lot of them are financial, as these high gas prices are certainly not helping. There are still plenty of concerts everywhere, but this uneasy feeling is echoed by many indie musicians: times are very hard. Is this the end of an era? Is this the end of touring as we knew it? If the big concert machinery seems to be fine for commercially comfortable bands, more experimental and DIY acts are struggling: you should not be so sure to see them again anytime soon.

Since the beginning of streaming services, revenues are not coming from album sales anymore, and touring was a steady source of revenue for many bands, but it is not the case anymore with this economy. And since most merchandise sales happen during tours, it’s a double loss. Creativity has become unsustainable, and the industry is broken. But what is the solution?

At the same time, concert tickets have never been so pricey, it’s not rare to pay $100, $200, or $300 for a ticket, and even the nose bleeds are out of control for some venues. I am honestly amazed to see a full house each time I go out – as it was the case at the Hollywood Bowl recently. If everyone is struggling, how can 17,000 people possibly afford to spend so much money on entertainment? Of course, the extra money you pay for a ticket doesn’t go into the musicians’ pockets but into Live Nation’s which owns Ticketmaster. Plus, the inflation in ticket prices is due to the reselling market, approved by Ticketmaster and everyone else. Some artists have tried to fight this insanity, like German industrial metal band Rammstein during a tour in Europe. The band filed a motion to ensure Viagogo, a secondary ticket site, could not resell their tickets, which were only sold via one platform, Eventim, with full names appearing on tickets along with matching IDs required for entry. Radiohead has occasionally done something similar, but this is not consistent, and I really wonder why bands are not fighting this problem, especially because they are not the ones benefitting from these inflated prices. This is more money for Live Nation and big concert promoters, and more disappointment among fans.

On the other hand, concerts are still canceled for COVID-19-related reasons, and mental or physical health is still a concern: last June, Mick Jagger tested positive for coronavirus, and the Rolling Stones postponed a show in Amsterdam, while Sting had to cancel a series of performances because of a coronavirus outbreak earlier in the year. Shawn Mendes pulled the plug entirely on a cross-continental tour in July, Arlo Parks canceled shows, citing “debilitating” mental health issues and stating, “I am broken.” Justin Bieber canceled all of his dates to “prioritize” his own well-being. If people are not doing it for financial reasons, they cite mental health issues. Ticket refunds must be a nightmare, some people never see the refunds, and all this contributes to the general climate of disappointment and frustration. Other bands are not always able to reschedule, and when they do, it could be months, or years later which triggers all kinds of problems. The Flaming Lips are playing in November in LA, but this concert was canceled twice and rescheduled twice! For fans, it has been a roller coaster.

Touring is expensive and it may be the reason why some very successful acts are playing many concerts in a row at the same venue: Harry Styles has a sort of residency at the Kia Forum in October-November, as it is probably much cheaper for him than touring. And he is the very popular Harry Styles! LCD Soundsystem is seemingly doing a similar thing with their now annual monthlong Brooklyn gigs.

For many musicians, touring has become a financial risk, a health hazard, or both. Indie musicians face a crippling cost of living crisis, and despite touring revenue being their biggest source of income, they have been hit with a very challenging situation. But nobody seems to have any solution.

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